From Paul’s Lips to My Heart

Philippians 4:1-9 Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Sermons are funny creatures.  Some appear out of desperation. Some appear out of inspiration.  Some are written as a challenge, some as a prayer.  Most are written for you gathered here, but sometimes I write mostly because I need to learn the lesson, I need to study that passage, I need to apply Scripture to my life.  Today is one of those days when the sermon is for me; if the Spirit is willing, there will be something in it for you, too.

This whole book of Philippians has spoken deeply to me…this is the fourth Sunday in a row that I’ve preached from the epistle lessons suggested by the lectionary. Today, especially, it spoke to me about the gift I have been given to serve as your pastor and preacher. It’s as if Paul was writing about my life instead of his own.

4:1 Dear friends, I love you and long to see you. Please keep on being faithful to the Lord. You are my pride and joy.

Paul’s greeting to the church in Philippi is the greeting that is always in my heart for you. Paul says, “I love you.  I long to see you. Please be faithful. You are my pride and joy.” I can’t say it any better. I love you. During the week, I long to see you.  I pray that your faith is getting you through the week.  I brag about you to other pastors.

Since July 23, 2006, this congregation has been in my heart, in my prayers, in my life. 

At first I didn’t understand why you all didn’t close up shop and go to a nearby larger congregation with a first-class preacher and a choir and a Sunday School. After all, you have had trouble with bills, with unexpected expenses, and to make that a little tougher to bear, you have a dynamic history of active  Sunday Schools and confirmation classes and church picnics and potlucks and suppers. That creates an “if-only” nostalgia that can paralyze a congregation. But this congregation has taught me that numbers don’t matter.

Even though we don’t have strength in numbers, we have our own strengths.

Paul continues: Euodia and Syntyche, you belong to the Lord, so I beg you to stop arguing with each other. And, my true partner, I ask you to help them. These women have worked together with me and with Clement and with the others in spreading the good news. Their names are now written in the book of life.

One of our strengths is that we love each other and we show it in multiple ways.    We think  of ways to help each other. We think of ways to help our congregation and our church to be more welcoming. We call each other during the week. And yes, we can disagree with each other without fearing that we will lose a friendship.  How many times I have bragged to other pastors about seeing two people argue on one Sunday and hug each other the next.

We follow more of Paul’s advice:

Always be glad because of the Lord! I will say it again: Be glad.

I have the advantage of being able to watch each one of you and I see so much joy and praise from up here.  I see the joy of faith, the joy of salvation, the joy of worship, the joy of hearing the word of God. 

Paul says:  Verse 5 Always be gentle with others. The Lord will soon be here.

Time after time, I see that gentle love that reassures, that comforts that heals. It’s seldom that I don’t see a smile on every face and I’d like to once just watch during the passing of the peace and keep score on how many smiles I see. Not only do I see smiles; I see concern, I see caring. I see genuine love, the kind of love that Jesus modeled, the kind that Paul prayed for.

Verse 6 Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts  offer up your prayers and requests to God. Then, because you belong to Christ Jesus, God will bless you with peace that no one can completely understand. And this peace will control the way you think and feel.

 We do pray about everything. First we pray for forgiveness. Then we pray for as many people as we can think of. That’s why our general prayer is so long…there are so many people who need our prayers in so many situations. Our prayer list is longer than a kid’s Christmas list. Everyone of those petitions is about someone who is hurting, about someone who is needy…and notice that we pray for ourselves at the same time that we may be the ones who serve with that gentleness suggested in verse 5. Our petitions reflect that life of fellowship and community that Paul has praised and promoted all through Philippians.  

Verse 8: Finally, my friends, keep your minds on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper.

Don’t ever stop thinking about what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.

Oh, my. What a list this is!  True. Pure.  Right.  Holy.  Friendly. Proper.  Here is another version of the Great Commandments.  Love God.  Love your neighbor.  What do I see?  What do I hear?  What do I repeat? 

Do I pay attention only to that which I know is true or do I listen to anything and repeat it just to impress someone?

How do I keep my thoughts pure?  Do I turn the channel or close the book or leave the room when I am exposed to sin?

Do I do only that which is right or do I do whatever is convenient?

Are my thoughts always holy or do I indulge in jealousy or envy or condescension or pride?

Am I friendly only to those who are friendly to me? Am I friendly only to those whom I think like me?  Do I stay away from people I don’t trust or who rub me the wrong way?

What is proper?  How do I know?  When I’m with one group of people, one thing is proper, with another group, something else is proper.  I know it’s not proper to swear in front of my mom or during the sermon. What about when I’m angry…is it proper then?  Is it ok to make fun of people as long as they don’t find out?  Is it ok to make fun of someone as long as they laugh, too? 

True. Pure.  Right.  Holy.  Friendly. Proper. Black mark after black mark on my score card. How dare I presume to tell you how to hear and interpret Scripture!

Verse 9: You know the teachings I gave you, and you know what you heard me say and saw me do. So follow my example. And God, who gives peace, will be with you.

Yes, I know the teachings.  Be gentle.  Work together. Have faith.  Pay attention to what is True… Pure…  Right…  Holy…  Friendly… Proper…  I have heard these words since before I was born…..and it does get a little easier…or maybe it’s just that my sins are more obvious to me as I get older and as I keep struggling to walk in the right Way.  Notice the reassurance Paul gives us…we don’t have to maintain these standards without help: through the mysterious, ever present power of God, the struggle is not filled with anxiety but with peace.

Paul writes this letter as if it is a reminder, rather than a list of rules…and that is what Sunday morning is like for me, what writing a sermon is like for me: a reminder of what I can be, I reminder of what I have.  I am not alone.  I have Scripture.  I have the love of my God, the teachings of my Jesus, the inspiration of my Holy Spirit. And I have fellow Christians who are gentle with me, who are friendly, who are proper, true, holy, right. I have only one more thing to pray about:

Dear God, teach me to be thankful for this fellowship divine, for this love all excelling.  Amen.